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Exquisite Mixture

The Virtues of Impurity in Early Modern England
Schmidgen, Wolfram
Penn Press


 Identities—national, ethnic, cultural—are never simple. They dwell, uneasily, between the competing narrative lines of purity and impurity, homogeneity and heterogeneity, continuity and discontinuity. Over the past thirty years or so, this truth has been brought home to us by a global capitalism that has ex­panded the mobility of persons and things and deepened the relationships between them. The objects that today we are willing to host in our bodies; the electronic mediation of intimacy, sociability, and political action; the rest­less circulation of commodities and capital around the globe; the splicing of corporations across multiple nations; and the increasing contact among people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds—we surely live in a period of weakening boundaries and increasing mobilities.

These very material changes have prompted some thinkers to stress the political value of impurity, heterogeneity, and discontinuity. Homi Bhabha's and Donna Haraway's portrayals of hybridity come to mind, as does Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt's diagnosis of a new, territorially unbounded politi­cal force, the multitude. In each of these cases, we are dealing with an at­tempt to grasp the increasing boundlessness of our world-historical moment as an enabling condition. Yet these attempts have found a striking counterpoint in the different calls from environmentalists, ethnic nationalists, and antiglo-balization activists for a return to greater purity, homogeneity, and continuity. On both practical and theoretical levels, then, the weakening boundaries that characterize our historical moment have dramatically increased our awareness of the competing narratives that tell us who we are.